When we were kids, all it took was donning a beach towel cape and running through the neighborhood to make us feel strong and competent. A simple garment addition and voila! We were superheroes.
Then, we grew up and went to work.
At your place of employment, you might be less inclined to feel the superhero and more likely to think, “We, the unwilling, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, for so long, with so little, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.” *
Sadly, it’s not all in your mind. Research says we’re getting more rude with each other at work, which doesn’t help us feel any more powerful. While there aren’t any simple solutions to feeling overworked and underappreciated, there are ways to cope with competing demands, office politics and snarky co-workers. One area in which you can up your “workplace powers” is that of setting boundaries. When you are clear with your colleagues about your line in the sand, you communicate that you do hold a certain type of power—that of self-respect. By communicating what you will (and won’t) tolerate in the way of interpersonal interactions, you are demonstrating your belief in your personal worth. Doing this telegraphs to co-workers that you value your time—and they should too. Here are 5 ways to help you from being bulldozed into oblivion.
Ask for clarification. Oftentimes, you just need to paraphrase the request in order for the requester to realize how ridiculous their request is. “Jim, I’m wondering—did you realize that it’s a 2 ½ hour drive to Detroit? By the time we drive there, and have the customer meeting, there’s no way to physically be back to our office at 11:00 AM, unless we have a 15 minute customer meeting. Maybe a phone conference would be better.”
Negotiate. If a colleague asks you to turn around a project in an unreasonable amount of time, it’s ok to negotiate the deadline. Say, “I know you want this today, but with my other projects, I can’t get to it until tomorrow morning. I’m sure you want ________ [whatever the task/project is] done right, so I’ll put my full focus on it tomorrow.”
Ask for help in prioritizing. “You said X and now you’re requesting Y. Which do you want me to focus on first?”
Review prior agreements. Sometimes, it helps to tactfully remind people what your previous commitments have been. “Stacy, when we met two weeks ago, you felt comfortable about getting this report to us by tomorrow. Is that still the case?”
Stand up for yourself. If a co-worker resorts to snide comments, take a deep breath, keep your tone neutral and say, “Cory, I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t use the phrase “_____”.
The key to all of these suggestions is remembering that it’s perfectly reasonable for you to expect respect in the workplace. (Assuming, of course, you act respectfully towards others. But that’s another blog post.) As Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Forget waiting for your manager to “empower” you. Do it yourself. Wrap yourself in a cape of boundary-setting and see where it leads you.
*This quote is sometimes falsely attributed to Mother Theresa. No matter the source, you undoubtedly have heard some variation of this quote at some point in your career.